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Crash Leaves Deep Grief in Kentucky

November 17, 1998

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ The buildup to one of Kentucky’s biggest football games in recent years was put on hold as players coped with a fatal truck crash.

It was a roller coaster weekend for the Wildcats: a big win Saturday over Vanderbilt, followed by the deadly accident Sunday. Monday found players and coaches struggling to deal with the loss and begin preparing for Saturday’s game at No. 1 Tennessee.

Among the hardest hit was quarterback Tim Couch, whose best friend was killed in the crash. Also killed was transfer defensive lineman Arthur ``Artie″ Steinmetz. Starting center Jason Watts was seriously injured.

A team meeting Monday began with players sitting in total silence, senior safety Jeff Zurcher said.

``I’ve never been in there with 100 other guys, especially football players, and had it be that quiet,″ he said.

``A period of brokenness and humility is good, is part of the healing process,″ Zurcher said. ``I know guys were crying. I shed tears. There’s nothing wrong with that.″

Couch turned down an invitation to accompany Watts, Steinmetz and his friend Scott Brock on their deer hunting trip. He broke down in tears as he talked about Brock.

``Being a football player, you think you’ve been through a lot of tough things, losing games in the last seconds, taking big hits,″ he said. ``You think you’re a tough person until you have to deal with going in and seeing your best friend’s parents after he’s just passed away.″

Brock, a student at Eastern Kentucky University, died along with Steinmetz when Watts’ pickup truck went out of control and flipped over on U.S. 27, about 10 miles north of Somerset.

Watts, who was driving, was thrown from the vehicle with the other two. He severely cut his right arm. The three were headed to a farm near Somerset when the accident happened just before 7 a.m. EST Sunday.

None was wearing a seat belt.

The cause of the crash is being investigated, and Pulaski County Sheriff Sam Catron has said speed may have been involved. Routine blood samples taken from Watts at the hospital are being tested for alcohol by the state police.

Watts was in fair condition Monday at Lexington’s University of Kentucky Medical Center, where he underwent a preliminary operation to clean the wound, which stretched from his elbow to his wrist. The hospital said Dr. James Lovett, a plastic surgeon, removed glass, rocks, dirt and dead tissue from the laceration, repaired some tendons and closed the wound.

The crash occurred hours after Kentucky (7-3) celebrated Senior Day at Commonwealth Stadium with a 55-17 win over Vanderbilt. Watts was among the seniors honored in a pregame ceremony.

Couch said he visited the injured Watts.

``I just told him I’m not blaming him,″ Couch said. ``I think he listened to me.″

Coach Hal Mumme canceled practice Monday. He and Mike Breaux, a minister at Southland Christian Church, one of Lexington’s largest congregations, met with players in what they described as an emotional meeting.

``It was a precious time for the team,″ said punter Jimmy Carter, a spiritual leader on the team. ``Some of the guys were crying. We all got down as a team and prayed.″

Before the meeting, Mumme said he planned to tell the players ``that God has a plan for everybody’s life, and some plans are shorter than others.″

``I think it only serves to point out for all of us that we’re only one brief heartbeat away from eternity ourselves, and nobody really can say when that time is.″ Mumme said.

Brock’s funeral was scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Thousandsticks United Methodist Church, near his hometown of Hyden in eastern Kentucky. A funeral Mass for Steinmetz was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the St. Pius Church in Edgewood, in northern Kentucky.

Mumme said some players would attend services for Brock, while plans were being made for the entire team to attend those for Steinmetz, a defensive lineman who transferred from Michigan State in August and was practicing with the scout team while he sat out the season.

Steinmetz had been expected to replace senior defensive tackle Mark Jacobs next year.

``Artie was a guy who was just a delight,″ Mumme said. ``He never failed to have a humorous comment to me when I passed him in the hall.″

Brock grew up with Couch in Hyden, and was a running back and receiver at Leslie County High School when his friend set national high school passing records there.

``He was someone I spent every waking hour with,″ Couch said. ``Me and Scott were as close as brothers.″

Couch said Brock lobbied him to go to Kentucky and not Tennessee when Couch was being recruited out of high school. The quarterback said that even though ``football seems the furthest thing from my mind right now″ he would play Saturday against the Volunteers.

``Scott would want me to beat Tennessee more than anything,″ he said.

Brock and Watts had become friends and hunting companions through Couch.

Mumme said Aaron Daniel, a sophomore center who spelled Watts when he suffered a concussion in the Arkansas game, probably would start against Tennessee, and redshirt freshman Nolan DeVaughn would back him up.

Couch said players plan to wear a patch honoring Steinmetz, Brock and Watts on their jerseys during the game.

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